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Thursday, June 29, 2017

San Diego 2017 - Part 1: Entering the whale's vagina

According to Ron Burgundy, the words "San Diego" translate to "whale's vagina" in German. Aside from the beer, the climate, the vibe, and the fact that one of my oldest friends lives there, I knew there was something else about San Diego that I loved; I just couldn't put my finger on it. Yes, kiddies, it's time once again to trip the Left Coast fantastic with a visit to our favorite city - San Diego!

After an amazing trip to Portland, OR last year, we'd decided it was time to head back to Cali to witness first-hand how the craft beer scene had grown since our last visit (a mere two years earlier). I was on "blog hiatus" at that time, so unfortunately I didn't not document our trip with a "Pour Travelers" treatment (aside from Untappd check-ins a-plenty). This time, we flew out of Baltimore's familiar BWI Airport, and we used the later flight time to our advantage. Since we typically fly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays due to cheaper flights, we sometimes run into issues with beer spots not being open earlier in the day, especially Tuesday (the "travel day" this year). A bunch of new breweries had opened in Baltimore since we'd last visited; unfortunately, only one was open for lunch on a Tuesday. Good thing it didn't suck!

...and so it begins!

We arrived at Brewhouse No. 16 shortly after opening time (11 a.m.), and we'd planned on getting some lunch as well as a few beers. Typically, we fast during the day, but since we were on vacation, lunch was in order. Besides, we wouldn't be fed on the plane, right? Situated in a century-old stone building in Baltimore’s historic district, Brewhouse No. 16 once housed a fire company. Now, it operates as a family-owned brewpub featuring food from scratch and some tasty house beers.

First beer of the trip!

Speaking of tasty beers, Brewhouse No. 16 had a small but respectable tap list for a brewpub, which included everything from a blonde ale to a barrel-aged pineapple saison. For my first beer of the trip, I went with Belvedere, a Belgian-style pale ale. An odd choice for me, I know, but thankfully it wasn't too heavy on the Belgian yeast and had a pretty nice hop profile. I really wanted the Barrel-aged Pineapple Saison, but I knew Brewslut would order it. Even though we share our beers, it's usually a 60/40 split based on who ordered the beer (in case, you know... it sucks)! Luckily, neither sucked and both were enjoyable. We were really digging the BA Pineapple Saison, which was pretty unique. It boasted moderate acidity amid the sweet/tart pineapple notes.

Interior of Brewhouse No. 16
After perusing the lunch menu, I was torn between a veggie burger and house-made falafel. I asked our waitress, and she recommended the falafel. I opted for it since I don't come across it all too often in our travels. Turns out it was the right decision. It was fantastic!

I wasn't sure what to expect from this place, but since it was the only brewery option open to us on a Tuesday, it was either Brewhouse No. 16 or nuthin'. I'm glad we stopped in. The beers were solid, the food was great, and the ambiance was spot-on. There's just something special about drinking in an old, re-purposed building that heightens the experience for me. Places like McMenamin's Kennedy School in Portland, OR, Church in Pittsburgh, and even Oakbrook in Reading (another old firehouse) all come to mind. I'm sure there are a ton more, but these were the first to enter my noggin.

After a pleasant visit to Brewhouse No. 16, it was off to perhaps the premier beer bar in the greater Baltimore area. Max's Taproom has been around the block. Boasting over 100 tap lines, five beer engines, and a collection of 1,000 well-curated bottles, it's no wonder why this place is rated one of the best bars in the U.S. (hell, even the world)! Sadly, we don't get to visit too often, but every time we do, it's easy to find something on tap that I've never had, and it's equally as easy to drink local.

I did, inf fact, keep it local during our visit and ordered a pint of Green Machine, a hazy IPA from Diamondback Brewing. Hopped with Citra and Ella, this was a juicy little nugget that hit the spot and scratched my IPA itch for the afternoon. Brewslut opted for the Charm City Sour from Brewer's Art, which didn't really jive with her, unfortunately. I have to say that I have such a love/hate relationship with "hazy juice bombs" or "NE-style IPAs." While I definitely prefer a well-balanced West Coast IPA over the newer, trendier model, I can't help but order one every time I encounter one on a beer menu. (Editor's note: You'll soon read about how the trend is migrating westward in subsequent blogs about this trip.)

I followed up Green Machine with Grays Papaya, a "milkshake" IPA from Key Brewing out of Dundalk, MD (remember... keeping it local, folks). The name of this sounded so familiar, and I can't believe I didn't make the Seinfeld connection (NOTE: Gray's Papaya is a NY-based hot dog chain that was mentioned in an episode of Seinfeld as "Papaya King," when Kramer jumps out of a movie line to grab a hot dog, then later spills mustard on Elaine's jacket in the theater.) Television geekery aside, this beer evoked actually drinking a fruit smoothie. These milkshake IPAs are quickly becoming more and more popular in the world of craft beer. Most of the ones I've had have been very enjoyable, and although the lactose used during the brewing process enhances the mouthfeel quite a bit, I sometimes feel it also mutes the hop character. This one, however, carried a sweet fruit presence backed with musky, peppery fruit rind notes, which was enjoyable.

Not sure why I took this selfie, but it's my only pic from Max's. 

Pre-flight beers have become a necessity for me when traveling, so much so that my usual frugal self won't blink at an $11.00 price tag of an airport beer. In this case, I went so far as to order a beer I really didn't want, if only out of desperation. Hey, it was the best they had to offer (not that it's a bad beer). The beer was Flying Dog's Doggie Style Pale Ale, and I once again came to the conclusion that "any beer is better than no beer at all."

Doin' it Doggie Style!

I was really hoping to have enough time to grab a beer somewhere at the airport in Minneapolis, MN, where we had a brief layover. Sadly, we did not. It was either grab a beer a chug it, or take a dump in the airport bathroom rather than in the cramped quarters of the plane's restroom... and we've all been there, right? Our gate was even right next to a "tavern," but I didn't look at the tap handles for fear that I'd see some Surly or something that would make me weep like a little bitch. So, onward to southern California!

When we landed in San Diego, I texted Dano (my friend and innkeeper of the "Lebowski Suite," where we'd be staying during our visit) to let him know that we'd arrived safely. He mentioned that he and his girlfriend, Jen, were just heading to bed, and that we should let ourselves into the house. I deciphered this statement as such: "You have time for a few beers!" Yes, even though we were travel weary after flying for the majority of the day, we were still on "PA time," so despite some unwanted swamp ass and the need to brush my teeth, we decided to B-line to nearby Toronado.

Pleeps was up for the challenge.
After perusing the board for a bit, I decided to go with a new IPA from one of San Diego's best, Pizza Port, called Pickleweed Point. I'm glad I did, because this one was another winner in a long line of fantastic IPAs. Hoppy, citrusy and dank with a slight whiff of cat box (I love that descriptor), this beer is usually what I'm after when I order a West Coast IPA. As Toronado approached closing time, one of the bartenders seemed to be in a hurry to get out of there, while the other guy seemed to be enjoying the company of we out-of-staters. The reason I say this is because he kept feeding us complimentary pours of beers like Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme and Russian River Perdition. Meanwhile, the other guy was corralling folks out of the bar as it was now clearly after midnight. We also enjoyed a small pour of Vanilla Fudge from nearby Beachwood Brewing, which I'm glad we sampled, because we never made it to one of its tasting rooms (which were a fairly decent drive away).  

Hamilton's tap handle collection.
Since Toronado was closing up shop (after all, we could have easily wore out our welcome, what with all the free beer), we decided to head over to Hamilton's, another great beer bar in close proximity to Dano's pad. They were open until 2 a.m. Remember... to us, it still felt like 9-ish p.m. thanks to the 3-hour time difference between coasts. So, Hamilton's it was for another round of IPAs, courtesy of Modern Times and Beachwood, respectively, with Accumulated Knowledge and Thrillseeker. We were digging the Modern Times a bit more (duh!) but both hit the spot and quelled our late night beer cravings sufficiently.

'Twas a long day, but there's always time for beer.

Obviously, we'd planned for an ambitious first day. I mean, two years had passed and many breweries had since been sewn into the tapestry that is the San Diego craft beer scene. Ocean Beach, Dano's old stomping grounds, was first on the agenda. He'd mentioned that OB had blown up beer-wise, and many established breweries were opening tap rooms, many on Newport Ave. (OB's version of South Street). Last time, there had only been Pizza Port and the new-at-the-time Culture Brewing Co. So we were anxious to check out a bunch of new places, all of which were in a radius of just a few blocks.

First up, a stop to arguably my favorite of the old guard, Pizza Port. When we're in San Diego, this place just feels like home. Dano used to live right down the street (something like 240 steps from his door to Pizza Port), which was decidedly convenient for us. One trip, we visited all eleven days we were in San Diego. Our MO was such: wake up, go work out at the gym (yes, we once got a temporary gym membership while we were on vacation), then go to PPOB for lunch and a beer. By the way, they have a killer lunch special, which includes a slice, a nice-sized salad, and a house beer for $7!

Pleeps was so excited to return to Pizza Port!
We kicked off the day with a pair of IPAs, me a pint of Da Mainliner, and Brewslut, a pint of Grapefruit Puncher. Both were tasty as hell, but man, the Grapefruit Puncher was aptly named! The smack of peppery grapefruit rind and puckery, citrusy hops provided a figurative bitch-slap across the palate. This was easily one of the most authentic grapefruit-infused beers I've come across. Da Mainliner was pretty much your every-day, straight-up citrusy West Coast IPA. No frills with plenty of thirst-quenching power. Up next was a pour of Barrel Roll for me, and Carlsberliner for Brewslut, the latter a Berliner Weisse brewed at Pizza Port's Carlsbad site. Barrel Roll sounded too good to pass up - an Imperial Stout with coffee aged in bourbon barrels. A risky beer so early in the day, I know. But I had to get it. Because vacation.

Just up Newport Ave. is one of the new kids in town. Kilowatt Brewing Company's production facility is actually situated in Kearny Mesa, which is north of San Diego proper. However, they'd just recently opened a new tasting room in OB, and none other than our buddy Luke (originally from York, PA and shares the same birthday as me, except he's 10 years younger) is the manager. We visit San Diego so frequently that we've accumulated a few additional friends outside of Dano. Luke's one of them. So I excited to see what was brewing up at Kilowatt. Turns out a lot!

Luke on the deck of Kilowatt.

For starters, they had a ton of variations of a Gose from its 3S series (Super Sour Series). So, we obviously had to try a bunch of them! We started with the blueberry, mango, and cherry variations, and all were enjoyable, refreshing, and had authentic fruit characters. I also was eyeing up a Gin Barrel Aged Tripel, which sounded tasty. I'd experienced a bunch of great gin barrel-aged beers while out in Portland last year, and it's a trend I'd like to see find its way back East. (Actually, it's starting to migrate, as GearHouse out of Chambersburg, PA has done some gin barrel-aged beers recently.) Starting the day off with a BA Imperial Stout followed by a Tripel, and we're only two breweries deep. Yup. That's how we roll! But it was worth it. Turns out it was one of my favorites of the trip (a long list, yes, but a list nevertheless). As I've said before, I'm not a fan of gin, but there's something about the way the botanicals work with the hops and/or yeast in beer that is a home run for me. This one was a winner! 

It's like a black light basement party inside Kilowatt!
Luke was kind enough to hook us up and, knowing I work for Tröegs, informed us that with so many breweries in San Diego, they all offer generous industry discounts. Good info to have in my back pocket, especially since we'd be hitting copious amounts of breweries on this trip, as usual. 

My view at Culture. I dig the Cheers logo knockoff.

Further up Newport Ave. is Culture. We'd visited on our last trip and dug the vibe of this place. I remembered that the beers were solid but not ultimately memorable, or at least mind-blowing. After checking out the tap list, we decided on a one-pint limit here. I opted for the RIPA Rye IPA, while Brewslut uncharacteristically chose a Wheat IPA. Perhaps I nudged her to try that one, as I love the style. Either way, both were pretty solid. Again, nothing too memorable. I was more enamored with the assortment of dogs in the Tasting Room during our visit. Yes, San Diego is extremely dog-friendly, so add that to the long list of things I love about the city.

No culture shock for Pleeps!

Just across the street is a brewery new to us. Dano had actually mentioned that Helm's Brewing was "skippable," but we decided to swing by for a beer since it was right across the street. Based on the beer I ordered, I'm really glad we stopped by.

My view at Helm's OB taproom.

After having some heavy beers so early in the day, I decided to scale it back a few notches and order a 3.2% ABV Berliner Weisse called The Cat's Pajamas (love the name). They had a few syrups available, and I settled on the lavender and lemongrass. Wow! This really hit the spot. I usually prefer woodruff syrup (a green-tinted, woody-flavored syrup to accompany by Berliner Weisse over fruity syrups), but this may have taken the cake. The flavor combination was spot-on and paired well with the blast of mouth-puckering joy brought on by the base beer. I wish we would have stopped back for another one of these when we returned to OB a few days later. Sadly, we did not. We also enjoyed some great conversation with the bartender and a few other East Coasters who were on vacation. PA represent!

Naked Pleeps enjoys the Cat's Pajamas.

By this time, we needed some non-liquid nourishment, so we headed back down Newport Ave. to a favorite spot of ours. No visit to San Diego would be complete for us without a trip to South Beach for fish tacos. No matter what time of day we visit, it always seems to be "happy hour." On this particular visit, the place was pretty dead. Typically, the place is packed or at least very busy when we arrive. This time, ghost town. Dano had mentioned that they were going downhill lately and mentioned there are much better places for fish tacos. Coming from a native, I don't doubt it. But getting fish tacos at South Beach has become a ritual for us. The tap selection is also pretty decent, and you can always find a tasty West Coast style IPA on tap. This time, we both decided on Bear Republic's Racer IPA, which we hadn't had in a while. While somewhat tame by today's standards, this beer literally was THE beer that introduced me to the world of West Coast IPAs back during our inaugural visit to San Diego (it was at the Yard House in the Gas Lamp district, I believe). So needless to say, it holds a special place in my heart.

Across the street is another OB staple, Newport Pizza & Ale House. We enjoyed some slices over pints of Gremlin IPA from Little Miss Brewing and Hit Me With Your Best Hops from Acoustic Ales (more on both of those breweries later). This place is a typical hole-in-the-wall bar that just happens to have great beer and some damn fine pizza to boot. Since we love OB and visit several times during each visit to San Diego, a quick stop for a beer and a slice is mandatory.

Inside Modern Times. Behold the comic book wall!

On to Modern Times, perhaps our best find from our visit two years prior. Earlier in the day, we'd arranged for Dano to meet us there after his work shift. When we arrived, it felt great to be back at one of our very favorite San Diego breweries. We loved this place so much that we visited four times on our last visit.

Michael and Bubbles mural rendered in Post-it notes!
I decided to stay light for a while and ordered Fruitlands, a variation of its tasty Gose with passion fruit and guava. Brewslut opted for Drop Art, a saison brewed with mango and orange zest. It was great to catch up with Dano again (although we'd just seen him at Selin's Grove a mere 5 days ago when he came home to Bloomsburg for a visit) and enjoy the ambiance (and great beer) of Modern Times. Before we left, I had to get a pour of the Black House nitro stout with coffee, coconut and cocoa. Hops aside, these are quite possibly my three favorite "C" beer ingredients. Enjoyable, to say the least. During this visit, we also discovered that Modern Times had begun canning its amazing cold brew coffee. Wha-wha-whaaaaat?! Yes, indeed! Now it would be possible for us to enjoy a cold brew whenever it tickled our fancy. Needless to say we drank our fair share of these puppies during the trip.

My vantage point at Modern Times.

Back at Dano's pad for the evening, I cracked open some cans of a 4-pack I procured from Modern Times called Clear and Present Dankness while we chilled out after a long day enjoying OB's recently expanded beer scene. I love me a good, dank IPA, and this one delivered. Great stuff, indeed!

Clear and Present Dankness!

We're just getting started, folks! Stay tuned for plenty of more beer-soaked memories from our recent trip inside the whale's vagina. Until then...

Pour Travelers family portrait.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Scream for me Virginia... and you too, Maryland!

I know it sounds like I'm beating a dead horse, but we always seek out breweries when we're traveling. I mean, duh! Typically, we're traveling just for beer anyway, but when something comes up like the opening of Iron Maiden's latest U.S. tour in Virginia and it coincides with your wedding anniversary weekend, you plan accordingly. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: "Iron Maiden is playing in Virginia over our anniversary weekend. Do you want to go?"

Brewslut: "Fuck yeah!"

Me: "Awesome! I'll start working on a beer itinerary!"

That's how we work, and that's why our relationship has endured for so long (18 years of marriage and almost 27 years as Ffej & Brandi).

However, the itinerary for this little weekend jaunt proved difficult, as there were so many small breweries that had popped up across the area we'd be traversing. With that in mind, I completed two separate travel itineraries to prepare for any spontaneity that might occur during our travels.

Two days before we were set to embark, Deuane highly recommended that we try and squeeze in a new place called Cushwa, situated in Williamsport, MD. It was slightly out of the way, he said, but well worth the deviation. So, back to the drawing board! In order to facilitate a visit to Cushwa, I drew up a third itinerary that included a completely disparate "Day Two:" one hitting some places in VA not far from our hotel, the other making a stop at a recent favorite, then spending the rest of the day in nearby Frederick, MD. In the end, we opted to go to Cushwa and end at recent favorite Ocelot, which was in close proximity to the venue (the evocatively named Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, VA). Our trek home would take us through Frederick, which allowed us to hit three new breweries that had opened since our last visit to the area (Rush's R40 tour at the aforementioned venue).

Cushwa, named after the Cushwa Basin in Williamsport, MD.

The trip kicked off on a positive note when we arrived at Cushwa Brewing Company slightly ahead of schedule, just prior to opening time. Like many breweries we've encountered on the West Coast, Cushwa is situated in a business park with dozens of identical suites. They opened the doors and in we went, parking ourselves at the bar. With eight house beers on tap, we decided to nix our usual sampler flight and go with our gut. Deuane mentioned how much he enjoyed the silly-named Jello, a hazy NE style IPA. I joked with the bartender about eventually getting a cease and desist from Jell-o. Of course, any publicity is good publicity, right Fonzie? Correctamundo! Brewslut went with a pour of The People's Champagne, a puckery Berliner Weisse.

"You guys got Jello?" - Special Ed
Both beers were highly enjoyable, setting the bar high for the other breweries that followed. I also liked how their beer menu on the wall read "(Y)OUR BEERS." Because, you know, the customers drink them too. I thought it was a nice sentiment and nod to their local regulars.

Mi cerveza es su cerveza a Cushwa!
Since Jello was so enjoyable, I opted for Face Chop, a hazy NE DIPA with an abundance of tropical fruit notes. Yum! Brewslut selected Ricky Rydes a Rickshaw, a whimsically-named rye beer. Personally, I think she enjoyed the alliteration of the name, being an English teacher and all. I couldn't help but think of Ricky from Trailer Park Boys (one of our favorite TV series) running around the park with a rickshaw and swearing at people.

Design your own crowler label on Cushwa's chalkboard!
 All in all, this was a great way to kick off our weekend! Deuane typically offers pretty sound advice when it comes to breweries, and this one definitely did not disappoint! The beers delivered and the owners (the bartender and brewer are husband and wife, I believe) were extremely friendly and accommodating. So now there's another Williamsport we'll need to visit frequently for beer.

Cheers, Cushwa!

Up next was Mad Science Brewing Company, situated on Thanksgiving Farm in Southern Frederick County, MD. At first glance, Mad Science looked more like a tree nursery, flower garden, or greenhouse rather than a brewery. But as we approached the entrance, we learned it was both: part garden center and part brewery. They also had a shop where you could purchase various plants, flowers and yard items such as gnomes, lawn orbs, gazing globes, etc. As if that wasn't enough, they also featured live music. Since they are located on a farm, they are open seasonally. The place was pretty crowded when we arrived. Not Tröegs on a Saturday afternoon crowded, mind you, but we had to stand in line for a few minutes to get beer.

Q: Is this a greenhouse or brewery? A: Yes!

Being a farm brewery, Mad Science uses its own homegrown hops, fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients in every batch of beer they brew. Pretty cool, eh? I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the guy who lived two miles away that bent my ear for at least half an hour about hops and how he is a certified beer judge. He was nice enough, but, well... insert the "rolling eyes" emoji here.

As for the beers, here's a list of what we consumed at the brewery:

  • Chinook Harvester - fresh hop IPA through a Randall with Chinook hops.
  • Hemophiliac - a roasty "session" RIS (haha!) with coffee and chocolate notes.
  • Human Harvester - fresh hop IPA hopped with Cascade, Columbus, Magnum, and Nugget.
  • Antidote - citrusy pale ale hopped with Centennial.

The beers were enjoyable on a hot day. My favorite was easily the Chinook Harvester. For $8.00, you get a pint and can take home the glass. That's all fine and dandy, but we have waaaaay too many beer glasses; so many, in fact, that we use most of the newer ones we acquire as raffle prizes at Imminent Liquidation (the annual bottle share event we organize during Harrisburg Beer Week).

We had hoped to hit Vanish before ending at Ocelot, but we decided to meet some friends who were going to the show at Ocelot Brewing Company in nearby Dulles, VA. We'd first visited Ocelot a few month's earlier during our Team D(r)INK beerthday weekend trip. It was a favorite of everyone's so I was glad to learn how close the brewery was to the venue. When we arrived this time, our friends had come and gone, due to the fact that the food vendors were close to running out of food and it was packed with Maiden fans pre-gaming before the show. I was kind of bummed because we missed Vanish, but in retrospect it turned out to be the right decision, because it gave us a bit of leeway getting to the show, parking, and chilling for a bit. I always hate having to go in "hurry-up mode" prior to a concert, because I always get nervous about missing part of the show. Since we had general admission tickets in the pit area, I wanted to get there a little early anyway to ensure a good spot on the floor.

Recycled photo from our first visit. Too busy discussing Maiden!

I was excited to try the Grunge Legdrop, a dry-hopped Simcoe IPA brewed in collaboration with our buddy Cy from Amplified Ale Works in San Diego (where we'd be headed shortly). I'd learned about this collaboration during our inaugural visit to Ocelot. Turns out Cy was in for the Craft Brewers Conference this year, which was in Washington, D.C. Hence the collaboration. We also sampled Tongue Tied, a tasty DIPA, and Loaded Questions, another IPA variation. Ocelot is doing some of the tastiest IPAs I've had on the East Coast. Incorporating brewing philosophies of both coasts, I suppose Ocelot's IPAs could be marketed as "No Coast" IPAs. (Trademark on that is pending, BTW.) Since they were slammed due to the Maiden show, we didn't get a chance to chat with any of the folks at Ocelot this time. We did, however, grab some questionable BBQ from the food vendor of the day. I use the term "questionable" not for the quality of the BBQ, but the pricing structure. It was, after all, tasty. Eight bucks for a smoked chicken sandwich. OK, fine. Twelve bucks for the platter, which essentially was the sandwich and coleslaw. That better be some amazing, orgasm-inducing coleslaw! We went sans slaw.

Now... onto the show! 

Since this is a beer blog, I'll digress from going into details about the show. In a nutshell, Ghost was surprisingly very entertaining and enjoyable, and it got me really listening to their latest full-length CD again. You know these guys; all of the musicians wear matching ghoulish masks and the singer wears skull face paint and a Pope hat. Pretty f'n rad, right?!

Ghost: Satan is alive and well in Sweden!

As for Maiden, what can you say? Easily one of the most kick-ass bands of all time, regardless of genre. In addition to beer and classic arcade games, some of my absolute favorite things in life are Maiden guitar solos. (I mean, the songs are pretty good, too.) And as far as musicians go, this guy is probably in my top 5 favorite musicians (scratch that... people) of all time:

Steve Fucking Harris! Yes, that's his real middle name.

After the ass-kicking the previous night courtesy of Iron Maiden and a good night's sleep, it was time to continue or little weekend beer-cation. We'd first visited Lost Rhino over the weekend of the R40 tour a few years prior. Located in Ashburn, VA, Lost Rhino was conveniently situated near our hotel in the town of Reston. We enjoyed the beers and people so much, I even purchased a work shirt after our initial visit (and I have to really like a place to buy a work shirt).

I was a little disappointed to see Lost Rhino had changed a bit; not its tasting room atmosphere but rather its beer selection. Last time, I seem to recall a variety of interesting sours, Belgian-style beers and barrel-aged offerings in addition to a variety of core beers. However, this time, everything on tap seemed pretty pedestrian. I settled on the Face Plant IPA. Despite my initial grumblings (which really wasn't a grumbling at all; I just like that word), the Face Plant was incredibly enjoyable. It boasted everything I love about the style: an aromatic nose, a balanced hop profile, restrained but moderate bitterness, soft carbonation with a hint of prickle, ornate lacing around the glass, and just a touch of haze. This one had it all wrapped up in a single beer. So even though I was sad to see no "interesting" beers on tap, I was more than happy with my selection.

While we were driving through Leesburg from Lost Rhino to Frederick, MD, we drove right past
Vanish Farmwoods Brewery. We decided to flip a bitch (look it up in Urban Dictionary if you're unfamiliar with the term) and stop in for a beer. It was a split albeit very sound decision. As a matter of fact, it was one of the best quick beer decisions I've ever made in my life, right up there with attending the soft opening of Lagunita's beer garden on our 10th anniversary trip eight years prior.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Vanish!

Upon immediately setting foot inside the open tasting room area, I knew we were in for a treat. The vibe of this place was beyond cool, the beers all sounded amazing on paper, and the outdoor space was scenic and vast. I would have loved to have sat outside, but it was a scorcher of a weekend, so we opted to stay indoors. Since we had such an ambitious itinerary for a Sunday (and work the next day), we decided we'd stop in for a "quick one." Famous last words. Yeah, we could have stayed here all day. After we'd visited all of the breweries at the end of the weekend, we both agreed that this was our "find" of the trip.

After some deliberation, I opted for a pour of the Imperial Ghost Fleet III, an imperial version of its house Ghost Fleet IPA, while Brewslut went with the Juicy Tangerine White, a tart, kettle-soured witbier made with real tangerine juice. Hot damn! Both beers were bangin'! If you know me, about the highest praise a beer can get is "bangin'!" Upon finishing our beers, we both realized that this place was simply too special for a "one and done" stop. So, it was back to perusing the varied beer menu.

Pleeps striking his best Vanna White pose.

In an unusual break of character, I chose a pour of The White Wine Project, a tart, fruity ale aged in Fabbioli Pear Port barrels. This was rare for me, especially since they had several IPAs available.
But in this particular instance, they had me at "port." Brewslut, on the other hand, chose an IPA. Go figure! This particular one was a Grapefruit IPA hopped with Summit, Citra and Centennial. However, Vanish took things a bit further by adding real Ruby Red grapefruit juice to the mix. Both did not disappoint. Four for four, baby!

After an amazingly enjoyable visit to Vanish, it was off to Frederick, MD. I had pretty high hopes for Olde Mother Brewing Company, the first stop of three in Frederick. I'd heard good things from Deuane, and the beers sounded intriguing. The tasting room was small but eclectic, and there was a small back room that reminded me of the Northeast Taproom in Reading, PA. OK, maybe not that eclectic, but if you've been there, you catch my drift. Reminiscent? Sure.

We parked at the bar and perused the beer list, displayed on brightly colored chalkboard slats above the tap tower. We settled on the following sampler flight:
  • Burnside Swinger - coconut cream ale
  • Just a Gose - sour wheat ale brewed with salt mined from the Appalachian Mountains.
  • '86 IPA - IPA hopped with Centennial and Citra. 
  • Stagefright - raspberry sour ale
View from my seat at the bar at Olde Mother.

While nothing was particularly offensive, everything definitely sounded better on paper (or in this case, chalkboard slats). My expectations fell short, unfortunately. It didn't help that there was an annoying older couple sitting next to us at the bar who kept blabbering on and on about how their son drinks craft beer and knows everything about it. Yay. Here's a gold star. Now shut up. I don't know. Something about this place just wasn't jiving with me. I'd definitely like to give them another shot, because the place itself was cool and our server was friendly.

Attaboy Beer, our second of three brewery visits in Frederick was a pleasant surprise. I must admit, I wasn't a huge fan of the name Attaboy. It reminded me of a proud dad yelling at his slightly "special" kid while standing awkwardly at home plate during a little league baseball game: "Attaboy, slugger! You can do it! Just choke up on the bat and keep your eye on the ball!" Analogy aside, this place definitely didn't strike out with me. (Ouch, that pun hurt!) All lame joking aside, this place serves up some tasty beers amid a cool, modern tasting room with an industrial vibe. I also appreciated the simplicity of its tasting notes for each beer (three words indicating flavor, aroma, or feel).

Notes MaGoats!

The beer menu was rife with interesting-sounding beers, so we felt a sampler flight was in order. Here's the low-down:
  • Creeklife with Citra - Pale Ale with citrus and tropical notes. 
  • A.C.E. - DIPA hopped with Amarillo, Citra, El Dorado, and Horizon.
  • Bumpkin - a brawny "super saison" with cherry and woody tones. 
  • Galaxy Maid - Hazy, juicy NE-style IPA with tons of citrus flavor. 
Attaboy, Pleeps!

All of the beers were well-done and enjoyable, and overall Attaboy was our favorite of the three new breweries in Frederick. See? Sometimes a name can be misleading. Right, Pleeps?

Our final stop in Frederick was Rockwell Brewery. Due to our impromptu visit to Vanish, we decided to make this a one-and-done stop. However, we were pretty famished by this time, as the last two places didn't have food (although Attaboy had granola bars for $2, and I scarfed one down during our visit). Luckily, Rockwell housed a chicken truck that made some pretty bangin' (albeit a bit pricey) fried chicken. We got a bucket to share and some fries, which served its purpose. We settled on Double Vision (me), a pretty solid DIPA, and Uptown Girl (Brewslut), a blonde ale with subtle lemon and orange notes. In perusing the list of beers, I noticed that all of them were names after songs or made reference to songs or lyrics. For example, its brown ale was named Bad Leroy's Brown (after the Jim Croce song, "Bad Bad Leroy Brown"). Others included Revolution (The Beatles); Rapture (Blondie), a blonde ale; and Good Vibrations (Beach Boys), a summer shandy. After thinking about the name of the brewery, it made sense: ROCKwell. Rock music. Being a huge rock music fan, I made the connection and appreciated the effort. Simply put: I likey!

Can you pick out the songs referenced in Rockwell's beers?

With the addition of these new breweries and a few others, plus the veteran Brewer's Alley and regional giant Flying Dog, Frederick, MD is definitely a beer destination now more than ever. For those readers of Pour Travelers who reside in the Central PA area, it would make a great day trip or overnight jaunt.

While we were in the area, we did a quick drive-by at Pizza Boy, where I enjoyed a pour of Liquid CUREage, another solid IPA from Al, Terry & Co. And thus ends another chapter in Pour Travelers "beer-story."

Until next time... Happy Anniversary to us! :-)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Memorial Day Weekend: Part II - Beds yield more beer

On Sunday morning, my ass was dragging like a muffler hanging from the bottom of an old, rusty El Camino. I'm not overly fond of sleeping in a tent, so that - coupled with my beer intake from the previous day and not getting to bed until about 3 a.m. - contributed to my loaf-like demeanor. I had a feeling that we were going to skimp a bit on my ambitious Sunday schedule, which included return visits to Upstate and Horseheads (see Everybody Got to Deviate from the Norm) as well as a dip down into Billtown before retiring at the chalet for the evening. Turns out we only hit a fraction of what we'd anticipated, because I was beat like a 7th grader's dick on a sick day home from school. OK, enough with the similies. Let's get to the beer!

But not quite yet! I really wanted to get back to Farmhouse Brewery, but they didn't open until 1 p.m. on Sunday. So, we consulted our trusty Google and found a suitable place for breakfast. Off we go, then, to Owego! We settled on the family-owned and operated Owego Kitchen, and I'm glad we did. not only was the food fantastic, the owner was super-friendly and the service was swift. So swift, in fact, that we got done eating and still had time to kill. What to do? Much to the chagrin of Brewslut, I asked the owner if there were any record stores around. I'd noticed a wide assortment of shops and boutiques as we searched for a parking spot near the eatery. He kindly informed me that just down the street was an antique complex in an old Newberry's department store. (Remember Newberry's, that great "five and dime" store? We had one in Shamokin back in the day.) At any rate, we had about an hour or so to kill, so we took the short walk down the street to the old Newberry's-turned-antique complex and did some vinyl hunting. I picked up four records (including a still-sealed copy of Bob & Doug McKenzie's Great White North album)! so it was an hour well-spent. After all this, we still got to Farmhouse about thirty minutes early, so we sat in the parking lot until someone arrived. We managed to gain access about five minutes early when the owner/brewer arrived.

Tons o' taps at Farmhouse Brewery in Owego, NY!

Last year, I really enjoyed our visit to Farmhouse, a small brewery in what seems like the basement of someone's house. But this tiny place cranks tons of interesting beers. If you're feeling adventurous, you can get a mega-flight of everything on tap, which is somewhere in the ballpark of 21 beers or thereabouts. Needless to say, this is a sampler-friendly brewery. So bring on the flights, I say! Here's what we sampled during our visit:
  • Cuke Skywalker - cucumber gose with live probiotic cultures. 
  • Sweet Fancy Moses - Wheat wine with cacao nibs and Madagascar vanilla beans. 
  • Conflagration - coconut coffee brown ale.
  • Ain't it Dandy - Berliner Weisse brewed with estate-grown organic dandelions and local lemon balm.
  • Grinder - saison fermented with aronia berries (aka chokeberries). I've never heard of either!
  • Crazy Daizy Went Wild - barrel-aged wild Belgian-style Tripel. 
  • Commander Bovine - DIPA fermented with Brettanomyces
  • The Unfermentables - oatmeal stout... this one was more "special" but I can't remember what additional ingredients this beer featured. 
Pleeps taking flight at Farmhouse.

I remembered everyone from our last visit to Farmhouse (not their names... are you kidding me?!) but their faces and personalities. I love the experimentation that goes on at this place. The beers here are always creative and well-done, and the breadth of styles available is mesmerizing. I also appreciate the low-key vibe the brewery emanates. The people here are friendly and not in any way pretentious at all. To me, this is so refreshing to witness firsthand, especially as the number of breweries continues to grow, some of which are run by entitled hipsters who think they know everything. Thankfully, Farmhouse is churning out quality beers with the right attitude. There's nothing more off-putting than a brewery that takes itself too seriously. Am I wrong? You're not wrong Ffej, you're just an asshole. OK then.

Our second stop of the day, Diversion Brewing Company, was a first-time visit for us. To be honest, they weren't even on the original list (I wasn't aware of its existence, actually). But the fine folks at Farmhouse recommended them, and they were situated in the general area we were headed. So, in the literal sense, we actually make a diversion to get to Diversion. Ultimately, I'm glad we swung by because not only did we get to cross another new place off the list, but their beers were worth the effort.

My vantage point at Diversion.
Since this was a new place for us, more sampler flights were in order. Here's the gist:
  • Zested Interest - light, refreshing pale ale heavy on citrus zest. Great name!
  • Sunny Side Up - session IPA with grassy and earthy hop notes. Name sounds familiar...
  • Empire's Key - crisp, smooth DIPA with big hop nose.
  • Talent Juice - aggressively hopped DIPA.
We enjoyed a literal diversion to visit Diversion.

Beer aside, this place had lots of character. Situated on a farm, the rustic tasting room was constructed almost exclusively of recycled and re-purposed materials, including barn wood, metal siding, and a number of other things. The decor was unique and the overall atmosphere proved conducive to drinking. It's just a cozy place to kick back and enjoy a few beers. 

Cool re-purposed barn siding at Diversion.

After our flights, we decided to get half-pours of something else, since our initial beers passed the test. I went with East Coast Roast, creamy stout with hints of chocolate and coffee. Overall, the beers were well done for a new-ish place, and the atmosphere was spot-on. It was definitely worth the diversion in our itinerary to swing by for a visit.

We decided to forego both Upstate and Horseheads since we'd need to go a bit further north from Diversion and then backtrack down to Yorkholo. Instead, we headed for Yorkholo for a late lunch. We'd only just finally got to visit Yorkholo on a recent Chalet excursion (refer to aforementioned link provided above if you haven't clicked on it already) and were thoroughly impressed, not only with the beer, but, well... everything! So I was excited to be back despite my weary state. Plus, we were hungry.

First, lunch! In perusing the menu, we noticed that they featured an "award-winning" veggie burger. It sounded too good to turn down, so we both got one. Hot damn! Served in a grilled flour tortilla with some kind of awesome sauce, it reminded me of a Taco Bell grilled stuffed burrito, except way better (both tasting and for you). I washed mine down with a tasty Double Dry Hopped Saison
Brewslut opted for Gumption & Grit, an IPA with real mango puree blended into it. Thick, fruity and opaque, this sucker boasted a peppery citrus rind (you know, the white pith) character with a moderate bitter finish. Appearance-wise, it reminded me of freshly squeezed orange juice. The description indicated it might be pretty "chunktastic" (my word, not theirs), but we didn't experience any floaters or foreign matter suspended within.

My vantage point from the bar at Yorkholo.

I closed out our visit with a pour of Mountaineer, an extremely hazy DIPA. This one featured a peachy character with an abundance of citrus fruit. And with that, stick a fork in me, because that was about all I could muster after driving a few hundred miles and getting less than adequate sleep the previous night.

Unfortunately, Selin's Grove was closed on Monday (not just because of Memorial Day, but because they are always closed on Monday), so we took the shorter route home. But first, we stopped in at Pizza Boy to try some recent tap list additions. It had been a while since I got some face-time with Terry (the brewer), so it was cool to see him there hanging out. I started with a pint of  Hop Vision - Motueka, Terry's answer to the "haze craze." While it definitely didn't disappoint, I was more interested in a new DIPA called Wheezin the Juice (nice Pauly Shore reference!), which was insanely drinkable given its 8% ABV. Brewslut worked on the latest in the Swinglebeer series, a Passionfruit and Oat pale ale. (Side note: Hey Swingle, when are you doing to make "Drink My Ass for Thanksgiving?") She also enjoyed - I mean really enjoyed like on the level of multiple orgasms - the new milk sugar sour IPA called LemonDAIRY. I must agree that this was easily our favorite of the bunch. She liked it so much that we took home two 6-packs of recently canned pounders to enjoy elsewhere. This beer is so tart and refreshing, but straddles the line between citrus tang and hops nicely. Terry definitely knocked this one out of the park!

To cap off an enjoyable - albeit tiresome - weekend, some random guy paid for everyone's tab in the entire restaurant! When was the last time that happened to you?! More than likely, your answer was "never!" All in all, it was a fine long holiday weekend, and we were able to enjoy some favorite breweries along with a few great new finds. I look forward to returning to (especially) Upstate NY again to explore a bit further north into Fingerlakes territory. Thanks for reading. Until next time...

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Memorial Day Weekend: Part I: DetFest Bound

For the last four years, we've made the trek up to the Montrose, a tiny blip on the map in northeastern PA just south of Binghamton, NY for a small, private music festival organized by fans of my long-time original band, herbie. I recalled last year's trip in depth, so I'll keep the opening to this year's voyage brief and point out the 2016 blog for reference.

We set sail in the early evening of Friday, May 26 (the start of Memorial Day weekend) with a few new places on our agenda. Our first stop of the evening was Benny Brewing Co. The last time we were up in this neck of the woods, we skipped Benny due to time constraints. Since then, they'd moved to a larger location and opened a brew pub in Wilkes-Barre, only a few miles from our next stop - Breaker Brewing. But more on Breaker in a bit. I was surprised by the size of Benny... um, OK... that sounded dirty! But the place was much roomier than I'd anticipated. They also have a beer garden out back, and they even grow their own hops. See?

Hop bines outside in Benny's beer garden.

The place was hoppin' and no tables were available inside, so we sat in the beer garden area. The weather was pleasant albeit a bit chilly, so it was fine with us. After perusing the beer menu, I opted for something simple for my inaugural beer of the weekend - Pale Ale. No clever name, just a no-frills, straight-up American-style Pale Ale. You know what? It actually reminded me of the old Tröegs Pale Ale (R.I.P.) from back in the day. Brewslut opted for the Sippin' Time Session IPA, which was also served its purpose. Both beers were solid, although I preferred the Pale Ale a bit more. We had a hankering for some grub, so we decided to split an order of hummus, which came with baked pretzel bites and veggies. Our waitress was only two days in, but she did a fine job. I noticed that their giant soft pretzels looked eerily identical to the ones we serve at the Tröegs Snack Bar, which almost prompted me to order one, because they're that good! But Brewslut vetoed, so hummus it was. I almost got some fish tacos, but we decided to eat at Breaker since we enjoyed our pannini sandwiches so much last time we visited. We rounded out our visit at Benny with its Hopenstein IPA, a decent offering with ample bitterness, although the hop character was a bit non-descript. So the Pale Ale took top honors for me on this visit. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Benny, and we even got to meet the owner/brewer himself. I like when owners/chefs, etc. walk around to the tables and chat with customers. Turns out Benny just opened this site in November 2016, so it's still a very new undertaking. We enjoyed our visit, and even got a few games of Connect 4 in while we enjoyed our beers. We'll definitely stop in again next time we're in the area.

Pleeps with our first beer of the weekend!

We headed a few miles across the town to Breaker Brewing Company, a haven for coal crackers. I appreciate this place due to its nod to the coal region, which as many of you know, is our old stomping grounds. Well, Breaker is a bit north of where Brewslut and I grew up, but it's definitely all the "coal region" up in them there parts! We typically opt for sampler flights at Breaker, since they usually have 10+ beers available. Since our last visit, it seems like they changed gears a bit and moved more from using odd ingredients in lieu of more approachable NE-style hoppy beers. Aside from the Farmhouse Plum (which Brewslut ordered as part of her 3-beer flight), all three beers I sampled were hazy hoppy offerings. Here's the low-down:
  • Dem Oats Pale Ale - American pale ale brewed with oats and Citra and Eureka hops.
  • Smooph 04 - NE IPA hopped with Citra and Mosaic. Hints of melon and tropical fruit.
  • Carbon IPA - IPA hopped with Simcoe, Citra and Apollo. Grapefruit and piney notes.
Insider Breaker's bar area.
While each of the three hoppy beers I sampled were fine, I'm hoping that Breaker doesn't jump on the bandwagon of hazy IPAs.

With a new-ish tasting room, I made it a priority to add Susquehanna Brewing (SBC) to our weekend itinerary. While the spot itself was pretty cool, I was ultimately disappointed with my beer. Sadly, Brewslut concurred. SBC first hit our map when brewer/friend Guy Hagner (of One Guy and Berwick fame) helped open - and then started brewing for - SBC. I'd had a few of its beers over the years, none of which particularly "wowed" me (although Brewslut loves the Shady Spot shandy beer). But based on Guy's reputation as a brewer, I tried the beers as I encountered them out in the real world.

Entrance to Susquehanna's newly opened tasting room.

For our inaugural visit to the tasting room, I decided to go with the Hop Five IPA. I noticed the Hopcelerator was also available, but I'd had that before and wasn't a huge fan. Unfortunately, the IPA I ordered was a complete diacetyl bomb. If you are not familiar with diacetyl, it is a common off-flavor found in beer that elicits a microwave buttered popcorn flavor. Some beers - such as Heineken and Rolling Rock - consider it a hallmark flavor (why on earth, I have no idea)! I rarely don't finish a beer when I'm traveling for two reasons: 1.) I don't want to appear to be rude, so I'll usually just choke down a flawed or off-putting beer; and 2.) Because I paid for it, damnit! Sadly, Brewslut was equally unimpressed with her Hopcelerator.

Monkeying around with Pleeps.

Disappointed with our brief visit to SBC, it was off to Sabatini's - NEPA's premier craft beer mecca! I usually find a new SOLE beer to try while visiting, and tonight was no different. I spotted a beer called Over 9000 on tap; a DIPA, so I was sold! While it was a vast improvement over the beer I'd recently abandoned, I felt it didn't hit the mark of other hoppy offerings I've had from SOLE in the past. Coincidentally, SBC contract brews for SOLE, and its can releases are conducted on premises at SBC. Since we had about a 30-minute drive to the hotel, I nursed this beer while Brewslut dug into the menu a bit more, even ordering a cocktail (created by our friend and server, Kristen, so happened to be working that evening). It's always great to catch up with a friend in real life, as opposed to the interwebs.

I'd like to quickly point out that I love the bathrooms at Sabatini's... perhaps not as much as Zeno's, though. But still, I love the walk through the corridor to a collection of unisex stalls, with each door depicting a famous celebrity - everyone from Kermit the Frog to Bill Clinton.

...back and to the left.

When nature calls at Sabatini's, you have plenty of decisions to make, one of which is this: Who's going to watch over me while I urinate? I went with Caitlyn.

OK... I'm going in!
After an enjoyable visit to Sabatini's (which included a pizza, of course!) we were off to our accommodations for the evening, which were much nicer than the Red Roof Inn we stayed at last year over Memorial Day weekend.

Things got off to a good start on Saturday. I'm not sure how our first brewery of the day had eluded us for so long. The North, situated just west of Binghamton in the town of Endicott, had been alive and kickin' for a solid 5 years by the time we'd caught wind of this sweet little brewery. I had pretty high hopes after perusing the website, and I'm glad to say The North didn't disappoint. Sometimes I feel I possess an innate ability to sniff out the "good ones." The North is definitely one of the good ones.

The North... cross another one off the list!

The North is set up like a typical tasting room, with a long standing bar and sampler flights, growler fills, and the ability to purchase a glass of your favorite beer. I wanted to try everything, so Brewslut and I each ordered a flight, which included all five beers available on tap. Here's the skinny:

  • Naked Rambi - kettle soured ale
  • Blü - easy-drinking pale lager (the first lager they ever brewed).
  • Black Donald - flagship porter with equal parts roast, chocolate and hops. My favorite of the line-up!
  • Roasty O'Donnell - Pun-filled roasty, coffee-forward oatmeal stout. 
  • Kookie Klouds - a tasty imperial cookies and cream stout.

Inside The North.

Since we pretty much opened the place, patrons were sparse. Luckily, the bartender was extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and answered all of our questions about the beer and brewery. The brewer was also on-site (brewing, no less) and came out to share a few words about the beers (and chow down on some Chinese take-out for lunch). When we mentioned Pizza Boy, the bartender expressed her love for the brewery, so I asked her if she'd ever had the Vietnamese coffee version of Sunny Side Up. She hadn't. I just so happened to have a can in the cooler out in the car, so I brought it in to share with the group. Our bartender reciprocated with Beelzebub, hoppy stout from The Alchemist. They definitely didn't skimp on the hops with this one. It reminded me of a Victory Storm King or more full-bodied version of Tröegs Dead Reckoning Porter. Either way, I was glad to see them dabbling in other styles outside of the tried-and-true IPA.

This isn't the monkey you're looking for.

After sharing these cans with our small congregation, one of the other customers purchased a bottle of Loaded God Complex, one of The North's Imperial Stouts, and cracked it open to share with the group. It's never too early to imbibe a nice RIS (that could be our Pour Travelers motto... or perhaps our mantra), and this one was a fine example of the style. As its name implies, this particular variation was the "loaded" version, and was touted as a "hazelnut mocha chili stout." The hazelnut was quite prominent, but there was also some peppery heat in the finish, which mingled nicely with the cooling chocolate notes.

Thanks for sharing, bro!

This is the kind of brewery every town needs. I loved the vibe, the people, and - most importantly - the beers. This place is worth going out of your way to visit. We'll definitely be back... hopefully sooner than later.

After kicking things off on the right foot, it was off to Binghamton Brewing, another first-time stop for us. During our previous night's visit to Sabatini's, Kristen said that Binghamton was her favorite of the breweries in Binghamton, so we were excited to check it out. We arrived right at the 2 p.m. opening time, so the place was vacant, save for the cheery and talkative purple-haired bartender. We took our places at the bar and perused the tap list, which included about six beers. I began with a short pour of the aptly named Citra Pale Ale, which was light, hoppy and enjoyable. Brewslut opted for the Purple Rain, a Gose with Concord grape juice. She was wowed. I rarely see her bowled over with a beer, but this was one such occasion. Ultimately, I believe it turned out to be her favorite beer of the weekend. I must admit, it was quite delicious, and the color of the beer hearkened our friendly bartender's hair.

Pleeps and a half pint!

After our pair of inaugural beers, I made a comment about the number of taps on the wall, remarking how sometimes breweries keep "special secret beers" on tap. Turns out my instincts were correct, as they did, in fact, have a secret, unmarked tap! The incognito beer was called Susan Bees! (another clever pun), an imperial brown ale brewed with honey. Our bartender was kind enough to let us in on the secret and provide a sample. It was smooth, viscous, and sweet. By now, I had to visit the restroom (we drink a lot of coffee in the morning too; a diuretic, according to Dr. Brewslut, which causes the coffee to travel through your bladder quickly and efficiently). A quick stroll through the production space and I could relieve myself. See?

...just a quick stroll through the brewery to the can!

Back at my seat, we went in for round two. I decided on the Maple Brown Ale, while Brewslut went with the Sweet Milk Stout. Both were solid but not quite as enjoyable as our initial beers. However, Purple Rain especially was tough to beat. Since our bartender was so friendly and accommodating (and an apparent fan of Tröegs, I learned), I went out to grab her a bottle of Crimson Pistil, our new hibiscus IPA, and she was thankful (so much so that she comped our entire tab)!

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the awesome cheddar popcorn they had as a complimentary bar snack. This stuff was like crack, and I had to push the bowl away after a while before I devoured an entire bag myself. Hey, at least I was loading up on carbs, right? (Actually, the beer was doing a fine job in that respect.)

This popcorn is making me thirsty!
Two for two, and it was off to Water Street. We first visited last year on our NEPA excursion and were impressed enough based on our initial experience. Plus the owner is a Judas Priest fan (as evidenced by some framed posters and LPs on the wall), so that's always a plus in my book! I opted for a wheat session IPA called Suco de Tangerina. As you can imagine, this one boasted hints of tangerine. Brewslut tried one called Betty White, described as "a golden beauty with a rye sense of humor." Cool. More puns. Over a pour of Avenger Pale Ale (a study in Cascade and Northern Brewer hops), we struck up a conversation with a couple from North Carolina, which kept us occupied. Water Street is a cool little spot, although I failed to snap any photos during this particular visit. Also, just around the corner is another mainstay of the Binghamton beer scene. "Hooray!" I thought. "We don't have to park again."

Like Water Street, we first visited Galaxy Brewing over last Memorial Day weekend. This place has an obvious outer space vibe with a seating area called the "lunar lounge," complete with a moon mural, and many of its beers are named with the space theme in mind. Last time, we enjoyed a few hefty IPAs. This time, however, it was a whiskey barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout called Panic that caught our attention first. But first, a bathroom break!

The Lunar Lounge inside Galaxy Brewing.

On my way back from the restroom, one of the brewery employees asked if I could spot an anomaly in the moon mural. I looked over it briefly, and noticed that the planet earth in the upper right corner depicted two North American continents. For displaying such a keen sense of observation, Galaxy kindly awarded me a complimentary beverage of my choice. Panic it is! At 8.8% ABV, it wasn't too heavy, although the whiskey character was fairly pronounced and tangy. I let Brewslut enjoy the lion's share of this pour since I was driving (plus I had to play drums for about two-and-a-half hours later than evening).

Speaking of stouts, our next selection was named after my favorite episode of Ren & Stimpy - Space Madness. This was an Oatmeal Stout with Brettanomyces (a wild bacteria that imparts sourness or barnyard funk to a beer). I don't dig sour stouts too often, but this one was subtle and pretty enjoyable. And we couldn't leave without trying Clax, a lime stout, which came across like a Mexican cola. The lime was off the charts here. I'm not sure how they landed on that particular name, as a quick trip to Urban Dictionary lists the following definitions:

  • A word to describe people with the relative IQ of a salmon. 
  • Somebody who acts like a complete idiot 24/7.
  • It can also mean nothing.
Hmmmm. OK, so that wasn't helpful. I guess this one will remain a mystery sealed in citrus. 

After our visit to Galaxy, it was time to say "farewell" to Binghamton and head back to Montrose, PA for one final stop - Endless Brewing. For a super tiny place in the middle of nowhere, these guys are legit. When we arrived, the parking lot was full and the place was packed with folks sampling beer and getting growler fills. Upon perusing the amusing chalkboard, I was sad to see that Grasshopper, an excellent pale ale (and its flagship beer) was sold out for the time being. Last year, I bought a six-pack of cans and enjoyed it very much. However, there were plenty of new beers to try this time.

Always great to be back at Endless!

First up for me was Vacation Inspiration, a white IPA brewed with limes and kafir lime leaves (a type of lime native to tropical Asia commonly used in Thai food recipes). I love me some lime, and this one was pretty tasty. While imbibing, we chatted with a variety of customers as well as one of the owners (the woman we spoke with last time and also the wife of the brewer, I believe). We were able to snag a small table in the corner of this otherwise standing-room-only tasting room, which was fine because I was about two-and-seven-eights sheets to the wind by this time. However, we couldn't leave without enjoying some Bombshell Blonde IPA, its signature IPA. Last time, Brewslut was loving a TRIPLE version of this, which sadly wasn't available during this visit either. Still, this one is a solid, drinkable, straight-up golden IPA. Finally, we sampled the Bourbon Barrel Cider, a house-made hard cider aged in bourbon barrels for 11 months. This sucker was strong and boozy!

After our last sample, it was time to head to DetFest and get down with my peeps. More drinking ensued, of course, thanks in part to my well-stocked cooler of Tröegs beer including recently procured crowlers of Scratch Boysenberry Gose and Passion Fruit IPA. I also had a few nicks of whiskey, thanks to a few of my bandmates. After melting faces for a few hours, it was time for a hard - and well-deserved - crash in the tent!

Stay tuned for additional adventures from Memorial Day weekend 2017, including the return trip home and our stops along the way. Never fear! We took the scenic route.

Until next time...

Brewslut must have been pretty tipsy to let me capture her eyes on camera. 
(Pleeps is usually her photo stand-in; otherwise, she's usually wearing sunglasses.)